The Offaly football team in Croke Park on Sunday last.
THE Offaly GAA County Board will be meeting with county senior football and hurling managers, John Maughan and Michael Fennelly in the coming days to discuss their future.
The term of both men is at an end after the end of the 2022 season for both teams. It ended up a disappointing campaign for the senior footballers and hurlers.
The footballers were relegated from Division 2 of the National Football League and were evicted from the Leinster Senior Football Championship by Wexford – they fielded a very understrength team that day but it was still a shock defeat.
That loss sent Offaly into the second tier competition, the Tailteann Cup where they got revenge against Wexford and then beat Wicklow and New York before they suffered a very bad 3-22 to 2-16 defeat by Westmeath in the semi-final on Sunday at Croke Park.
The hurlers also had a tough 2022. As expected the jump to Division 1 of the National Hurling League was too big and they were relegated back to Division 2. Their Joe McDonagh Cup campaign ended up very disappointing as a defeat by Carlow in the last round ended their ambitions of making the final.
It has led to speculation about the future of both John Maughan and Fennelly. Offaly GAA chairman Michael Duignan stated on Monday that he has given both managers a bit of time after their championship campaigns ended to allow things to settle. “I will be talking to them this week and we will see where it goes from there,” he remarked.
Maughan's reign as senior football manager is almost certainly over. The Mayo man has served four years in charge and there has been suggestions in recent weeks that the Tailteann Cup would spell the end of his time.
Maughan is likely to pull the plug himself and won't have to be pushed - it will be a major surprise if he is back for a fifth year. He said after Sunday's defeat: “I honestly don't know. I won't be answering that question this evening out of respect. It's the county chairman that appointed me, it's him that I'll be chatting to over the next couple of days.I don't know. Very often these decisions are decided for you.”
He came into the Offaly job after a turbulent season which saw Kerry man Stephen Wallace's reign end abruptly after a Leinster defeat against Wicklow and interim management appointed. He steadied the ship, set the bar high and the highlight was winning promotion to Division 2 of the National Football League last year while they were very close to morale boosting championship wins over Meath and Kildare.
It didn't happen for Offaly this year as they faced a lengthy absentee list, through long term injuries and unavailability. The Mayo man had previously managed Clare, Mayo, Roscommon and Fermanagh and he has occasionally spoken about the toll of travel from his Castlebar home to Offaly training in Kilcormac.
His departure will lead to speculation about his successor and the early two front runners will be Tomas O'Se and Declan Kelly with O'Se the slight favourite. The Kerry folk hero was added to Maughan's management package as a coach this year and there has been speculation from the statrt that he was lined up as his successor – especially as he gave up his pundits role with RTE and other media work to concentrate on the Offaly role.
Declan Kelly will also have plenty of backers in the county. He did a tremendous job in leading Offaly to the All-Ireland U-20 football title last year. He knows the young talent inside out and the transition of those U-20 stars into senior players will determine the mid term future of Offaly football.
The future of Michael Fennelly is less certain. The former Kilkenny star has served three years as manager and it has been a mixed bag. They didn't win the Christy Ring Cup in his first year in charge but they had a very good 2021 as they won the Christy Ring Cup and promotion to Division 1 of the National Hurling League. Offaly did slip back a bit this year. They were always going to struggle in Division 1 of the National Hurling League and it was not a surprise that they received a couple of bad beatings but their relegation play off defeat by Antrim was disappointing. They never fully ignited in the Joe McDonagh Cup campaign, even when they were winning games and it all blew up in that final round robin game against Carlow.
It leaves Fennelly on precarious ground. The Kilkenny man has a genuine interest and desire in improving Offaly hurling, he may want another year and he has worked hard on improving their systems across the board. His first two years were very much disrupted by Covid restrictions and there is a case for giving him one more year. Even taking the higher level of opposition into account, however, Offaly did slip back this year with some players not recapturing their 2021 form and there is a good possibility of the County Board deciding to seek new management.
There is a stronger case to be made for giving Fennelly an extra year than Maughan but the smart money will be on Offaly seeking two new managers. If Fennelly is replaced, there won't be a clear favourite. There is no outstanding contender in Offaly and the likelihood will be of an outside manager being sought. Michael Duignan has huge contacts all over the country and will be able to get an outside manager but it is impossible to speculate at the moment.
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